Monday, April 8, 2013

What we gave up

We made it! Our first winter in OCPH. A winter with several snowstorms and a major hurricane. We were warm and comfortable without a furnace or fireplace or radiators. Just a small heat pump system and passive solar gains. There are signs of spring in Southern New England as the last of the snow piles on our property have melted. We are coming into our second season living in OCPH and I am excited to see how the house performs.

Spring on the back patio

The media storm has continued with several great articles in the Avon News, the Waterburry Republican, and the Green Building Advisor. I'm waiting with baited breath for a call from the New York Times, who was our original inspiration for building a Passive House. Heck, as long as I'm putting myself out there, Paul and I would love to go on the The Colbert Report. C'mon Stephen, you know you wanna.

One common question of most of the interviewers was "What did you have to give up? What design compromises did you have to make to build a house like yours?" We really only came up with three, and they are not biggies as far as I'm concerned.

1) No fireplace - A fireplace and chimney is a huge heat sink and breaches the sealed envelope of a house which is a Passive House no-no. I plan to build a beautiful stone fire pit circle in the side yard so all our fireside gatherings will happen outdoors. I enjoy a good song circle by the fire even in warm weather so I don't consider no fireplace to be a sacrifice at all.

2) No direct entry from the garage to the house - The indoor air environment would be compromised by having auto and other fumes from the garage vent into the house. The garage shares one wall with the house but has no un-sealed penetrations making it outside the building envelope. We have a side door from the garage that exits onto the covered porch and have to walk about 10 steps to the front door. Not having a direct garage/house connection is a good building practice for any house concerned with clean indoor air.

3) Ventless clothes dryer - A vented dryer not only is a breach in the envelope but the rate at which it sucks air out of the house throws off the air pressure balance. The ERV (energy recovery ventilation unit) is "tuned" so the incoming air volume matches the out-vented air. We use the combination of a spin dryer and a condensing dryer. That, my friends, is another post altogether. Again, a minor compromise that I have come to appreciate and love.

Now that the interior of the house is basically done, we are shifting our focus to the outdoors. Gardens need to be designed and planted. I've started my vegetable seeds in flats in my little outdoor greenhouse. It's going to be a busy spring at OCPH.

Barrel composter and seed starter greenhouse